Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Senate Republicans Push for Parole Reforms

With the Senate poised to take up a comprehensive parole reform bill on Thursday, the Senate Republican Caucus is hailing the bill as a major step forward in protecting public safety.

We have been fighting for extensive parole reforms since the session began in January, and we are now very close to achieving that goal. This is a very good bill, but at the same time, we feel we can make it stronger by taking steps to ensure that some of the proposed changes do not undermine the integrity of our criminal justice system.

Senators Robert Hedlund, Michael Knapik, Richard Ross and I have filed a series of amendments designed to crack down on violent habitual offenders and make it tougher for individuals serving a life sentence to qualify for parole.

The Caucus is attempting to block efforts to reduce minimum mandatory sentencing terms for drug offenders and a proposal that would make it easier for criminals to shave time off their sentences by participating in “good time” credit programs of questionable value. The Caucus is also calling for changes that would empower the governor to remove parole board members for cause and require law enforcement officials, victims and the families of victims to receive advance notice of parole hearings so they can testify before the parole board.

The Senate Republicans’ amendments would:

• Strike language contained in the proposed bill that would reduce the minimum mandatory sentence for several drug offenses;

• Increase the minimum time served for individuals serving a life sentence before being eligible for parole from 15 to 20 years;

• Require sentences imposed on third time habitual offenders to run consecutively, not concurrently;

• Remove proposed increases in the “good time” sentencing reductions for prisoners;

• Require prison superintendents to get approval from the commissioner of corrections before approving of the worthiness of the good credit program;

• Maintain drug-free school zones at 1,000 feet, rather than the proposed reduction to 500 feet;

• Set term limits for parole board members at two consecutive terms, or 10 years;

• Require that at least two members of the parole board have law enforcement experience;

• Mandate that a victim or victim’s advocate serve on the parole board;

• Require the parole board to read criminal records aloud at parole hearings and to document having done so in the record;

• Require that if the parole board does not post portions of public records and summary statements on the Internet, it must state the reason(s) why it cannot do so;

• Mandate that the parole board provide written certification of its attempts to notify law enforcement, victims and victims’ families prior to holding a hearing;

• Require parole board Internet postings to include a summary of the proceedings;

• Require the governor to use the recommendation panel when filling a vacancy on the parole board, and also give the governor the authority to remove a parole board member for cause after notice and a public hearing;

• Establish a special commission to study the potential effects of adopting the federal model for authorizing sentencing reductions in place of the current state parole system; and

• Increase the size of the parole board nominating panel from five to seven to fill vacancies on the board, while mandating that the two new positions be filled by a local law enforcement official and a member chosen by the state’s District Attorneys Association.

Posted below is a list of crimes for which three convictions would eliminate the possibility of parole.

List of Offenses